Most 80-year-old men would be found to have prostate cancer if they were screened for it, said Dr. Thomas Flaig, associate professor of the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
And most of them die with it, not because of it, said Flaig, a medical oncologist who specializes in urologic cancer, including prostate cancer.
Flaig said there will be 240,000 new cases of prostate cancer in U.S. men this year and 28,000 deaths from the disease, the most common nonskin cancer in men.
Flaig commented after Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. of Omaha, said in a press release Tuesday that he had been diagnosed with Stage 1 prostate cancer and would begin daily radiation treatments in mid-July.
Flaig said it's hard to give a prognosis based on what he knows of Buffett's case because, while it's Stage 1, the grade hasn't been disclosed. The grade refers to whether the prostate gland, when viewed under the microscope, is unchanged or severely transformed. If the gland is transformed, that indicates the cancer is aggressive.
Flaig said the fact that Buffett's letter says his prostate cancer is "not remotely life-threatening or even debilitating" suggests it is low grade.
Flaig said the fact that it's an early stage prostate cancer, detected by a PSA, or prostate-specific antigen, blood test and not by symptoms is positive.
The majority of men with Stage 1 prostate cancer do well, Flaig said. He said waiting until July to treat it generally wouldn't be a questionable decision and wouldn't make a big difference in the outcome.
External beam radiation therapy, which is what Buffett evidently will receive, can cause mild to moderate fatigue and in some cases nausea and other side effects. It's inconvenient, Flaig said, because the patient typically must receive it five days a week for six or seven weeks. The treatment itself lasts only a minute or two per session.
Buffett said his treatments were planned for two months.
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